Strong foraging preferences for Ribes alpinum (Saxifragales: Grossulariaceae) in the polyphagous caterpillars of Buff tip moth Phalera bucephala (Lepidoptera: Notodontidae)

Juliano Morimoto* (Corresponding Author), Zuzanna Pietras

*Corresponding author for this work

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Herbivorous insects such as butterflies and moths are essential to natural and agricultural systems due to pollination and pest outbreaks. However, our knowledge of butterflies' and moths' nutrition is fragmented and limited to few common, charismatic, or problematic species.
This gap precludes our complete understanding of herbivorous insects' natural history, physiological and behavioral adaptations that drive how species interact with their environment, the consequences of habitat fragmentation and climate change to invertebrate biodiversity, and pest outbreak dynamics.
Here, we first report a population of the Buff‐tip moth Phalera bucephala (Lepidoptera: Notodontidae) feeding on a previously unknown family of host plants, the mountain currant Ribes alpinum (Saxifragales: Grossulariaceae). This is the first report of a Notodontid moth feeding on Grossulariaceae hosts.
Using no‐choice and choice assays, we showed that P. bucephala has strong foraging preferences for a previously unknown hosts, the R. alpinum but also, although to a smaller extent, R. uva‐crispa compared with a previously known host (the Norway maple Acer sp.).
These findings demonstrate that P. bucephala feed on—and show strong preference for Grossulariaceae host plants, indicating flexible physiological mechanisms to accommodate hosts plants from various families. This makes this species a potential model organism to study the behavioral and physiological mechanisms underpinning insect–plant interactions and diet breadth evolution.
We discuss the broad ecological implications of these observations to the biology of the species, the potential negative effects of interspecific competition with endemic specialist moths, and highlight questions for future research.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13583-13592
Number of pages10
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number24
Early online date11 Nov 2020
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020

Bibliographical note

Open Access via the Jisc Wiley Open Access Agreement
Stiftelsen för Strategisk Forskning (GrantNumber(s): SwedNess)

We would like to thank Prof Maria Sunnerhagen for allowing access to the precision scale used to weight the caterpillars. ZP is funded by the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Research (SSF) within the Swedish National Graduate School in Neutron Scattering (SwedNess).

The authors have no conflict of interests to declare.

Juliano Morimoto: Conceptualization (lead); Data curation (lead); Formal analysis (lead); Investigation (equal); Methodology (lead); Visualization (lead); Writing‐original draft (equal); Writing‐review & editing (lead). Zuzanna Pietras: Conceptualization (supporting); Formal analysis (supporting); Investigation (equal); Writing‐original draft (equal); Writing‐review & editing (supporting).


  • diet breadth
  • ecological specialization
  • niche
  • polyphagy
  • range shift


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